Today is the last day in Japan to look at the autumn leaves. Abscission has begun, and the leaves are ready. It is as though some secret internal clock powered by nature tells the trees that today they must sever their leaves. Cascading like clockwork. Fading like time. Today the leaves will begin to fall, and there is no changing that fact. The Japanese people tell me that it starts today. The trees know that it starts today. The ground outside a wash of greens, yellows, and reds. A reflecting traffic light on a rain swept road would fit the scene perfectly. Today is clear with sunshine; dry but with a light breeze. No rain. No reflections. I head outside for one last time to enjoy the autumn colours. Tomorrow, there will be nothing left.
Despite my obvious fascination with the tranquil joy of autumn colours, I am distracted; still suffering silently from toothache. The dentist doesn’t open until half two; with an afternoon lunch planned, I decide on a 4pm appointment. I take the train over to Harajuku. Today, there are two very different festivals taking place in the space outside Yoyogi Park. The first is a vegan food festival, the second, a Spanish food festival.
I exit the train into Harajuku Station. On the other side of the ticket barrier waits a young Japanese man with a microphone. Like an animal waiting to catch its prey, he waits silently for me to get near, before rushing into my path, stopping me in my tracks and thus interrupting my thoughts of dental angere. “Excuse me, can you speak English?” he asks, holding the microphone rather intrusively beneath my chin, before pushing it toward my mouth in want of a reply. I hesitate for a moment, unprepared by his question.
“No, sorry,” I tell him.
“Oh,” he says, looking at me with a mix of confusion and wry disappointment. “Okay, sorry then.” With that he scans his Suica card on the ticket machine, and heads through the barrier in the direction of the platform; his outline lost in seconds as he is swallowed up by the reckless crowds.
I arrive at Yoyogi Park to find the Spanish festival in full swing, various food stalls (eleven of which are selling paella), traditional Spanish clothing, and flamenco dancers dancing on the large stage. The dancers appear to be genuinely enjoying themselves; their souls lost to the rhythm of music.
I didn’t come all this way to be harassed by men with microphones or listen to Spanish music though. I came here today for the vegan festival. I wander from Spain and inadvertently end up in Germany. For some reason, somewhere between the two food markets, car manufacturer BMW have a stage showcasing their newest electric car; the BMW i8. I can’t quite see what this has to do with the Spanish festival, or a diet free from animal products. The BMW stage is here though, and looks incredibly out of place; it is mostly ignored by the many people who are clearly here to eat food.
At the vegan food festival, there is a lot less hot food than I expected. Most of the stalls are selling organic and Fair Trade products. Coffees, chocolates, teas, sugars, and various types of bread. There are only about ten hot food stalls, but almost all of the food has already sold out. I am spoilt for choice between a shop selling Indian curry, and a shop selling vegan burgers.
¥500 later and I’m sitting on a park bench, eating a burger, surrounded by fallen leaves that probably taste better than my food. If it wasn’t for the sauce that adds at least a hint of flavour, I would probably discard the burger; rushing back to Spain for some lukewarm paella instead. As I leave the festival, I notice that the people browsing the vegan stalls are a lot less happier than the people over at the Spanish festival.
Literally full of beans, I head back to Asakusa, and to the dentist. Here, I endure four separate x-rays, before a quick fix is done on my tooth. I make an appointment to return in two weeks time. It looks like my tooth will face the same fate as the autumn leaves; an abscission of sorts. After an hour in the dentist, I pay ¥9720 and receive another packet of yellow pills.
My pain subsiding, I head over to Sensō-ji, passing hoards of skeletal trees. For the next three days, a festival is taking place. Something to do with badminton rackets, or so it seems.
Today is Hagoita-ichi. A festival of decorated battledores; old style badminton rackets depicting characters from kabuki shows. There about twelve different stores here each selling these rackets, at a high price. These decorated wooden boards are supposed to deflect evil; perhaps this is where the ‘bad’ comes from in badminton. The sport that these rackets are used for is something of a Japanese childhood game called ‘Hanetsuki’. Very similar to badminton, but played without a net. I suppose the evil is the shuttlecock, and hitting it toward your opponent is a way to deflect that evil upon others.
The traditional way that Hanetsuki is played uses a variety of face paint. If you lose a point, your opponent gets to rub paint on your face. If you were terrible at the game, I suppose after a while your colourful face might begin to resemble one of the characters portrayed on the Hagoita. These days, these rackets are used mainly for decoration purposes. Sandwiched between the stores selling badminton rackets, are food shops, and one specific store that caught my eye; because it looked so out of place.
Daruma are traditional Buddhist dolls and depict the image of Dharma. These dolls are especially considered as a symbol of good luck. With white eyes that stare into nothingness, it is said that if you colour in one eye, then you can make a wish. Once the wish comes true, colour in the second eye and your Daruma is almost complete. The only thing left for the doll is to be returned to the temple it was bought from, and burnt. It feels slightly unfair to burn an object that has done its best to grant you a wish, but sadly, that’s just how these things go. As I am taking a photograph of the dolls, a man next to me is doing the same. His hat flies off his head in a gust of wind. Somehow, I manage to reach my hand up and catch his hat in midair; like a pro.
After the festival, I head over to Akihabara for a spot of Christmas shopping. Japan is a country of Alcatraz themed restaurants and robot cabaret shows; so naturally I don’t find it strange anymore to find a café themed around a popular girl idol band. Akihabara is still full of comic book stores, video game shops, and big electronic department stores. This isn’t why I am here though. As if on auto-pilot, I head out of the station and straight to the AKB48 Café and Shop.
The last twenty-three single releases by AKB48 have gone straight to number one in the charts, so my opinion is that they must be very popular amongst Japanese people. One of the added bonuses (clever marketing tricks) is that with every CD purchase, there is a ticket that lets you shake hands with one of the members of the band. The guy in front of me in the queue is buying over one hundred copies of the same CD; presumably he really likes shaking hands. Leaving the shop, and armed with ten copies of ‘11gatsu no Anklet’, I feel like a weirdo. Regardless though, that’s Christmas shopping for ten people completed in less than ten minutes.
Before returning home, I head to Yodobashi Camera to play some piano, before leaving after thirty minutes because one of the staff members is giving me an ‘are you going to buy anything?’ sort of look. Outside Akihabara Station, somebody seems to have mixed their Christmas up with Easter.
After Akihabara, I decide to have a drink in a small bar near the station. It is here that I receive a phone call from my dentist. She is calling up to check how my tooth is doing. I am surprised she made the effort to see how I am. Another fine example of excellent customer service in Japan. Despite in two weeks having to have my tooth severed without anesthetic, her compassion somehow relaxes me. I forget about my fate, and enjoy the rest of the evening, virtually pain free.